Brooklyn Boro

De Blasio Admin: Racist, homophobic anti-dancing law has got to go

September 15, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
For the first time, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration came out on Thursday in favor of repealing the Cabaret Law, a "racist" and "homophobic" law that prohibits dancing in the majority of New York City venues. Photo by SASHABPHOTO
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On any given weekend in the City That Never Sleeps, young adults dance for hours on end, bodies pulsing to deafening beats as the sun rises outside.

On sweaty dancefloors across the borough, people dance to forget, dance to celebrate and dance to remind themselves of what is important in life. 

But as it turns out, bopping and boogieing is illegal in the majority of New York City venues thanks to the antiquated, “racist” and “homophobic” Cabaret Law.

The rule states that people can only dance in venues that possess a cabaret license, but they are extremely difficult to obtain. In fact, there are only 17 venues in Brooklyn and less than 100 in the entire city that possess a cabaret license.

The Cabaret Law, referred to by many as the “anti-dancing law,” was created in 1926 and prohibits dancing by three or more people in any “room, place or space in the city,” to which the public may gain admission and includes “musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other form[s] of amusement.”

The draconian law forces bar and club owners to place long, obtrusive tables in the middle of their venues to discourage dancing.

For months, Councilmember Rafael Espinal has fought to repeal the law, and at a Consumer Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday, his campaign finally got the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We feel there are better ways than the current Cabaret Law to create a strong and healthy nightlife economy while also ensuring the safety and security of everyone participating in that economy,” said Lindsay Greene, a representative from de Blasio’s office.

This was the first time that de Blasio’s administration has come out in support of repealing the law.

At another Consumer Affairs Committee hearing in June, Shira Gans, a member of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, said the de Blasio administration was open to helping the nightlife community, but she never explicitly said it would support the Cabaret Law’s repeal.

“I am pleased to hear the administration is strongly in support of a full repeal of the cabaret law,” Espinal told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Over the past several months, I and hundreds of advocates have been extremely vocal and organized in laying out a compelling argument as to why this archaic law no longer has a place in our books.

“I look forward to working with all parties going forward to ensure the repeal is done properly with the appropriate security measures in place.”

According to NYC Artist Coalition, an organization that “[protects] community spaces,” the Cabaret Law was created and used to break up underground black institutions at the height of the Harlem Renaissance and it was reinforced by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the ’90s to target gay and lesbian bars.

“The Cabaret Law, with its infamous racist and homophobic history, has horrible effects to this day,” wrote NYC Artist Coalition in a statement. “… Social dancing is not a crime.

“We advocate for the safety and preservation of informal cultural spaces, such as DIY music venues. The Cabaret Law is currently used to criminalize such spaces and it forces our communities underground and into unsafe environments.”

In addition to de Blasio administration officials, famous choreographer Mercedes Ellington and other nightlife activists testified on Thursday against the Cabaret Law.

Sixteen councilmembers have signed on as co-sponsors to Intro No. 1652-A, which will repeal subchapter 20 of title 20, effectively repealing the Cabaret Law. In addition, it will improve safety provisions at establishments to ensure the security of patrons and businesses.

The repeal of the Cabaret Law is part of a broader agenda to address cultural, social and quality-of-life issues in New York’s City’s vibrant nightlife scene.

On Aug. 24, Espinal passed Intro No. 1688, which will create an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Advisory Board. The agency will be established before Jan. 21, 2018.

The director of nightlife’s responsibilities will include regulating the nightlife industry, helping DIY venues stay open and creating a safer partying environment.

“We aren’t in a small conservative town in Kansas, this is New York City, a sanctuary city where you shouldn’t need a license to dance,” said Espinal. “Dancing and free expression is a vital part of our cultural identity.

“The Cabaret Law is a blemish on our history and continues to keep small businesses in fear. There is more work to be done, but this is one step in the right direction.”


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